Alabama legislators move to impeach governor

Story highlights

  • Alabama representatives say articles of impeachment will be introduced against the governor
  • Gov. Robert Bentley calls move "political grandstanding"
  • Audio recordings from 2014 purportedly reveal Bentley engaging in sexually explicit conversations

(CNN)A bipartisan group of Alabama lawmakers said Tuesday that articles of impeachment will be introduced against Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

"We're looking at this governor who has essentially betrayed the trust of the people of Alabama through actions and lies that have caused us to have some doubt about his leadership," state Rep. Ed Henry said at a press conference.
    "There is a crisis of confidence," said State Rep. Mike Ball, chairman of the House Ethics Committee. "And it needs to be resolved."
    Henry and Ball, like Bentley, are Republicans, underscoring the uphill battle the second-term governor faces in the midst of a highly publicized sex scandal.
    But Bentley is vowing to fight it.
    "There are no grounds for impeachment, and I will vigorously defend myself and my administration from this political attack," he said in a statement. "Today's press conference is nothing more than political grandstanding intended to grab headlines and take the focus away from the important issues the Legislature still has to address before the end of the session."
    Audio recordings from 2014 surfaced last month of a sexually explicit conversation reportedly between Bentley and one of his former aides, Rebekah Mason. Only the governor's voice is heard on the recording.
    The governor didn't deny the authenticity of the recording when questioned about it.
    Both Bentley and Mason have denied having a physical affair. Bentley and his wife divorced last year.
    Bentley has apologized and maintains he did nothing illegal. He has said several times he won't resign.
    The proposed articles of impeachment list four reasons why the governor could be impeached: Willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, and offenses of moral turpitude.

    How impeachment works

    In Alabama, articles of impeachment must be brought forward by the state House of Representatives, while the state Senate acts as jury. Most states follow a similar procedure, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
    Henry, lead sponsor of the measure, said that while he has the 53 votes needed to move the bill up to the Senate for an impeachment trial, it was going to take some time.
    "We have the votes to pass it," he said. "But if we brought it up today, I believe it would fail."
    That's because circumventing normal legislative processes -- such as committee assignments and hearings -- would require four-fifths of the House to vote in favor of suspending the rules.
    "It's not going to happen today," said Henry. "The process starts today."
    Henry said he was pushing impeachment because the state House needs to be responsive to voters and not wait for the court system and law enforcement agencies to finish their work in the case.
    "That would be passing the buck," Henry said.

    An apology at a prison

    During a visit to a prison Monday, Bentley took some time to issue another apology.
    "I've asked God to forgive me, but I've asked other people to again forgive me," he said. "I have truly asked the people of this state, that are the most loving and the best people in the world, I have asked them to forgive me."

    The back story

    Whether or not Bentley had an affair, many Alabamians are angry about what appears to be subterfuge coming from a politician who campaigned as an honest, principled conservative.
    Spencer Collier, the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, was fired on March 22. After being ousted, Collier said he had seen text messages and heard audio recordings of "a sexual nature" between Bentley and Mason, the aide.
    The tapes were made public by the Bentley family, according to AL.com, which published excerpts. AL.com reported that it was allowed to hear portions of the tapes by people close to the Bentley family.
    AL.com says the tapes were made by family members as they tried to figure out whether the governor was having an affair.
    On one tape, Bentley could be heard saying: "When I stand behind you, and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts, and I put my hands [unintelligible] and just pull you real close. I love that, too."
    Mason, who is married, resigned last week.
    "My only plans are to focus my full attention on my precious children and my husband who I love dearly," she said in a statement issued by Bentley's office. "They are the most important people in my life. Thank you for your prayers for our family."

    How states handle recalls

    Recall, by the numbers

    • 19 states plus the District of Columbia allow the recall of state officials
    • There have been three gubernatorial recall elections in U.S. history -- 2012 in Wisconsin, 2003 in California and 1921 in North Dakota (which led to the ouster of the governor, the attorney general and the agriculture commissioner)
    • There have been 38 recall elections to remove state legislatures. 55 % of them succeeded in unseating a sitting lawmaker
    • 45% of all U.S. legislative recall elections took place between 2011 and 2013

    Source: National Conference of State Legislature

    Statistics from March 8, 2016

    Nineteen states and the District of Columbia permit the recall of state officials, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
    Alabama isn't one of them.
    Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall effort in 2012; former California Gov. Gray Davis did not, paving the way for Arnold Schwarzenegger's election in 2003.